The concept of quality in online learning is as complex as the reality of online learning itself. There is a vast literature on quality in higher education, with a profusion of terms and concepts. It often identifies a tension between two roles of quality assurance: as a means of accountability and as a route to quality improvement. There is another key debate about the role of the student in defining quality. Some argue that defining quality in higher education should begin with the assumption that online learning is a process of co-production between the online learning environment and the student, with the student perspective taken as the starting point of quality development across the various areas of online learning provision. These tensions ‘become more demanding as new modes of provision increasingly become part of traditional campus-based higher education provision and as institutions try to use the same mechanisms to deal with these completely new forms of courses.’
What then constitutes quality in online learning? Several different benchmarks or quality standards have been defined and tested in numerous contexts around the world. The reading list in the appendix to this guide provides short summaries and links to many examples. Although the terminology and emphasis differ, common aspects of a quality experience in the online learning environment can be identified.